ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland hopes to reach a compromise with the European Union in fresh talks on possible immigration limits in the weeks after Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the bloc, a Swiss newspaper reported on Saturday.
The Swiss government has until February next year to enforce a binding 2014 referendum vote backing quotas on people coming into the country.
Any such limits would violate a bilateral pact with Brussels guaranteeing freedom of movement for EU workers - and Swiss officials are keen to find a way to at least minimise the confrontation with their main trading partner.
Veteran diplomat Jacques de Watteville, Switzerland’s chief negotiator in talks with Brussels, is hoping to find a compromise by July 6 when a meeting will be held, newspaper Tages-Anzeiger said, citing “reliable information”.
Talks have been on hold until after Britain’s June 23 national vote on whether to leave the bloc, as Brussels is unwilling to show any flexibility in the Swiss talks that could encourage the British ‘Out’ camp, a senior Swiss official said in February.
Details on what the compromise might be were “foggy”, the paper said, but indications in “diplomatic circles” were that it might involve a qualitative measures rather than quantitative restrictions, it added, without going into further details.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU but has signed up to a host of bilateral agreements. The 2014 referendum has jeopardized other Swiss-EU treaties that govern bilateral economic ties and stand or fall together.
A deal by July would leave enough time for the Swiss government and parliamentary commissions to sign off on the agreement in regular proceedings.
An alternative plan is to conclude negotiations by September at least and then push through a possible agreement in expedited proceedings, Tages-Anzeiger reported.
The government could also take a position on a popular initiative seeking to overturn the 2014 vote. The civil campaign called Raus aus der Sackgasse (RASA), or “Out of the impasse”, has gathered enough national support to force a referendum.
Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the Tages-Anzeiger report. In response to a Reuters request for comment, a spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said the government has always maintained it is seeking a solution in the Brussels talks before the summer and that the priority is to find a good rather than a quick conclusion.
Reporting by Joshua Franklin; Editing by Andrew Heavens